Let's Go To The Movies

A look back at Massapequa's movie theaters, along with a challenge to remember the most recent one.


What's playing at the movies this weekend? We could go to see the biography of Sigmund Freud, along with Safe At Home starring Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. The latter starts at 1PM, so that's a movie for the kids, presumably Yankees fans.

There's also the Academy Award winner To Kill A Mockingbird. Or, if we want a fright, we can see The Day of the Triffids (advertised as Hideous, Crawling Terror) along with Payrol,l which can also be frightening. The Triffids could be especially scary as the day turned to night,because the movie was showing at the Massapequa Drive-In.

These were the films advertised in a local newspaper in the spring of 1963 and underscore how much the Massapequas have changed. The Freud biography was showing at the Bar Harbour Theatre, opened in the shopping center shortly after it opened in 1958. It was located on the east side of today's shopping center, which is now known as South Bay, and remained open until the late 1970s, when much of the area was remodeled to accommodate the new South Bay Condominium complex. It was noted as an art house and would run the same film for several weeks. It was a one screen theater.

In order to see To Kill A Mockingbird, you needed to go to the Pequa Cinema, located just east of Broadway on the south side of Sunrise Highway across from the Massapequa train station. Several long-time residents remember it as a large and comfortable theater with a glass-enclosed lobby (see attached photo), also with one screen. It was opened in 1964, ran new releases and lasted until 1988. The site is currently home to an Infiniti car dealership.

By far the most unique theater was the Massapequa Drive-In, which opened in 1950 and remained in operation until 1968. It was one of many drive-ins begun after World War II to attract people who were buying cars in record numbers in the late 40s. It was billed as an ideal place for families and was also popular among teenagers, for reasons that will not be described here (this is, after all, a family web site)! It was situated behind Frank Buck's Zoo, no doubt to take advantage of the zoo's popularity with families from all over the New York Metropolitan area. It too had one screen and became a victim of progress in 1968.

The Frank Buck Zoo had closed three years earlier and there was pressure put on the owners, Prudential Cinema Corp., to sell so the entire area could become a shopping center. A typical drive-in in the New York area would be open six months at most, so the space came to be seen as wasted. With the development of the Massapequas, there was an increasing demand for stores to satisfy residents' needs. The last season - 1968 - was about the time most of the private houses throughout the area were completed. The drive-in site presented an ideal location for a shopping center, located on Sunrise Highway and with ample parking.

If the Drive-In was unique, the Jerry Lewis Theater can best be described as quixotic. It was one of over 150 sites offered to franchisees by Jerry Lewis and the Network Cinema Corporation. Lewis had achieved enormous fame as the zanier half of the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis entertainment team in the late 40s and early 50s. Their television shows received the highest ratings and helped make the television set a common piece of home furniture.  After their break-up

in 1956, both went on to make movies, Martin's generally more serious than

In 1966 Lewis began the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, which became an annual event during the Labor Day weekend and has raised over two billion dollars to combat the disease. Two years later, he gave his name and money to what he and his fellow investors thought would become a lucrative chain of franchised movie houses nationwide.

They offered franchisees the opportunity to manage their  wn theater, after paying $15,000 to $50,000 as a down payment. They would provide name recognition, as well as marketing and technical support. Unfortunately, the enterprise was never successful: many franchisees knew little about running movie theaters, there was minimal advertising or support from Lewis and his fellow investors and the timing was all wrong, as people gravitated toward the multiplex cinemas that were opening across the United States in the 70s.

By 1980 Lewis and Network Cinema declared bankruptcy and closed their theaters. Ironically, Massapequa's Jerry Lewis Theater had two screens, presaging what would become the more typical multi-screen design of contemporary movie theaters.

Massapequa's Jerry Lewis Theater was located behind what had been Frank Buck's Zoo and was built, ironically, on the former Drive-In property. After its closure it became a Harrow's Garden Center and is today the Staples store at the very back of the Phillips Shopping Center.

You've just read about four theaters in the Massapequas. There was a fifth, located in North Massapequa, about which little is known, and a sixth, which I would like readers to identify. Here's a clue: it wasdifferent than the above because it was a multiplex, the very type that had forced the older, single screen theaters to close their doors.

So, brush off your memories. I look forward to your responses.

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Cosmo May 08, 2012 at 05:15 PM
The mall or the theater?
Jay March 27, 2013 at 03:07 PM
i'll never forget the line wrapped around the block outside pequa cinema when empire strikes back was released.
Dave S. June 08, 2013 at 04:39 PM
At the Pequa I recall when the Beatles "A Hard Days Night" (or maybe it was "HELP") opened. The line to get in wrapped around the building and into the back parking area.
Chester July 06, 2014 at 02:52 PM
One of the tall front window panes was broken during a Hard Day's Night. The screaming was so loud I never heard a word of dialogue.
Richard Seleska July 06, 2014 at 02:55 PM
the Jerry Lewis was the Rae Twin Cinema from '79 - '81 when it closed. The Sunrise Mall theatre is the only one that you didn't mention. Probably the last theatre that was open in Massapequa.


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